2017’s album race wasn’t just close – it was a photo finish. The past few years saw albums like Frank Ocean’s Blonde, The Lumineers’ Cleopatra, and several other hallmark collections thrust onto the scene as undeniable market leaders. 2017 however, was not blessed with the same collective conclusiveness.
Believe it or not, that strife for glory is a good thing. As any capitalist would tell you that the competition spurred from having more than one horse in the race is a good thing for the industry’s productive conflict as a whole. More parity-induced struggle results in a higher average work rate, and a higher work rate yields higher quality results. Ergo, these 10 albums are filled with a healthy mix of predictable purebreds and unexpected self-starters.
1. DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar
In a year filled with immense political protest, DAMN. was arguably the music world’s most representative act of defiance. The album’s political conscience pulses throughout every dissenting vein, challenging society’s most controversial topics with ceaselessly daring and inspirational verses. On top of the allure of Lamar’s diplomatic objection, the disparity of artists used on DAMN. gives it a unusual genre-based intrigue. Including one of pop’s biggest stars in Rihanna, a completely unknown “sleeper feature” in neo-R&B singer Zacari, and a legendary rock band in U2 allowed DAMN. to make a splash before the listeners’ ears even tested the album’s waters. The second the album begins however, Kendrick plunges the audience straight into the moral deep end with an echoed bellow, proclaiming, “There’s a wickedness. There’s a weakness. You decide: are we gonna live, or die.” Some would call such statements hyperbolic and brash, but it doesn’t take long for DAMN. to convince listeners that boldly questioning societal direction is crucial to progress as a civilization.
Favorite Tracks: LOVE., XXX., ELEMENT., DNA., GOD.
2. A Deeper Understanding by The War On Drugs
Following the breakout success of their 2014 album Lost In The Dream, The War On Drugs returned with an impressively deep collection of long, pensive ballads. While their previous 2014 treasure incorporated the restlessness of a troubled soul artfully calming itself in mediation, A Deeper Understanding instead embodies a more enlightened progression. Frontman Adam Granduciel’s meticulous songwriting still captures a sense of past misery, but alternatively decorates each song in a much more positive light bordering spiritual rumination. All the while, The War On Drugs’ continue their saga of losing themselves in riff-filled hallucination, disappearing into a dream state nearly long enough to replicate listeners’ REM cycles.
Favorite Tracks: Thinking Of A Place, Pain, Pain, Strangest Thing, Knocked Down
3. Freudian by Daniel Caesar
R&B has a new star, and his name is Daniel Caesar. The Toronto artist’s impressive debut combines gospel and R&B to elevate 2017’s exemplary affection and sensuality to new heights. As the album title suggests, each song reveals subconscious desires slipping through the cracks of unintentionally heartfelt confessions. The continually slow progression and Frank Ocean-esque soulfulness radiates comforting intimacy. An appreciative smirk will be easy to come by when you realize that a respectable artist finally believes, not just promotes, that love can truly win in the end.
Favorite Tracks: Get You, Blessed, We Find Love, Best Part, Take Me Away
4. Twin Solitude by Leif Vollebekk
Leif Vollebekk emerged a subtle winner in the singer/songwriter world at the tail end of 2016 with his autobiographical but mysteriously unspecific single “Elegy.” Vollebekk’s supplanted album Twin Solitude followed suit with appeasing mixes of light pianos and precipitous percussion that alleviate stress one emotionally deep breath at a time. Each song does its part in kindling rambunctious thoughts resembling the types of ideas that are constantly stirring inside the heads of insomniacs. Vollebekk’s mental restlessness and never-ending goal-setting are cast forth not only in his broadly reflective lyrics, but in each song’s resemblance to a hymnal ramble that strays far past the boundaries that each verse provides. Twin Solitude is unquestionably Vollebekk’s best work yet as it consciously roams past what was previously comfortable and shows he is willing to take risks to expand his perceived identity.
Favorite Tracks: Into The Either, Elegy, Michigan, Big Sky Country, Vancouver Time
5. Something To Tell You by HAIM
Caution: at least one of these songs is going to get stuck in your head. HAIM’s sophomore album Something To Tell You is a monument of pop rick built around the staying power of addictive choruses. The album’s hooks are formulaic in their endlessness, spiraling around in continuous loops that avoid annoying repetition and encourage memorable ear moths. Each verse is entertaining in nature, but the verses are realistically limited as a song-fillers that do little more than close the gaps between refrains. HAIM knows what their audience came here for, and it certainly wasn’t for a set of thought-provoking interludes.
Favorite Tracks: Want You Back, Nothing’s Wrong, Little To Your Love, You Never Knew, Right Now
6. SATURATION by BROCKHAMPTON
What do you mean they came out with three albums in one year? BROCKHAMPTON’s amusement with their own congested and over-productive spirit was boastfully advertised to the world by dubbing their three 2017 releases with the ironic names SATURATION, SATURATION II, and SATURATION III. Don’t let that fresh-faced egotism fool you – there are very few noticeable weak spots within their plethora of yearly content. What makes them so successfully efficient, you ask? Part of their topical prosperity lies within their structure, as their Odd Future-esque infantry of artists allows for more than a dozen members to potentially appear on any given track. From heavy rappers, to smooth reggae artists, to euphonious soul singers, this group flexes its potential to hit hard from every angle.
Favorite Tracks: GOLD, 2PAC, TRIP, SWIM, MILK, FACE, WASTE
7. Keepers by Cataldo
Cataldo headman Eric Anderson’s voice was already appealing enough with its noticeable similarities to Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. Pairing those recognizably tuneful vocals with piano skills that could melt the hardest of hearts is a recipe for one of the most unexpectedly exciting indie albums of 2017. Keepers’ multilayered format flips back and forth between vaulting listeners out of their seat and comfortably laying them back down again, as half the songs ignite animated excitement while the other half incite happy-go-lucky mental ascension.
Favorite Tracks: Little Heartbeat, Between You and Me, Straight Up Western (White Noise), Photograph, Person You’d Be Proud Of
8. Flower Boy by Tyler, The Creator
After all these years, Tyler, The Creator is still finding ways to evolve. His unpredictable two-faced attitude still flips between (and often mixes) basking in his own ruffian audacity and exploring his radically visionary imagination, but it seems that Flower Boy was created with a much deeper purpose. Tyler, The Creator is finally able to outwardly express his pain, angst, and uncertainty without noticeable anger or a facade of confidence. He isn’t defining himself as the outcast anti-hero, he’s a genuine protagonist retracing a great deal of his missteps in an artistically calm and refreshingly honest manner.
Favorite Tracks: Boredom, See You Again, Garden Shed, Glitter, Where This Flower Blooms, Foreword
9. Lotta Sea Lice by Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
Slacker rock finally witnessed the marriage of it’s king and queen. Only half the world separated Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile and Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett prior to their breakthrough collaboration album Lotta Sea Lice, but that didn’t stop them from traveling across the globe to ironically preach universal disinterest. Whether you’d rather call it a duet or a monotone conversation, Barnett and Vile turn the concept of “doing nothing” into a series of captivating stories. Barnett and Vile’s shared interest in laughably understandable contradictions like “I don’t want to work but I don’t want to sit around all day frowning” or “I don’t want to give up but I kind of want to lie down” leave listeners smirking in unmotivated empathy. Aside from the their love of laziness and masterful storytelling, what makes Lotta Sea Lice truly endearing is the duo’s ability to collaboratively fulfill Vile’s foreshadowing wish in the album’s opening statement, “When I’m all alone and I’m all by my lonesome and there ain’t a single ‘nother soul around, I wanna dig into my guitar and bend a blues riff that hangs over everything.”
Favorite Tracks: Peepin’ Tom, Fear Is Like A Forest, Over Everything, Continental Breakfast, Outta the Woodwork
10. Cigarettes After Sex by Cigarettes After Sex
While 2017’s party-starting pop stars were out and about bringing stadiums to their feet, Cigarettes After Sex was gracefully formulating the soundtrack to each listener’s quiet ride home. Cigarettes after Sex’s self-titled debut serenades small audiences with near-whispers formulated for the nocturnally introspective. As the project of songwriter Greg Gonzalez, Cigarettes After Sex is designed for to be emotionally infiltrating in the most personalized fashion possible. Any audience exceeding a intensely intimate setting will lose value in Gonzalez’s confided breathes that he lightly exhales into verses. For the alternative music nerds out there, imagine if Broken Social Scene met Beach House birthed a softer dream pop record – that’s Cigarettes After Sex.
Favorite Tracks: Apocalypse, K., Sunsetz, Each Time You Fall In Love, Young & Dumb
So what’d you think? Anything you disagreed with? Something I missed? Be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comment section! If you enjoyed what you read/listened to, like and subscribe to the blog for a weekly slew of amazing music and fun content. Just hit the “Follow” button in the bottom right corner!
Still playing catch-up on your modern album knowledge? Last year’s albums are a great place to start. Check out my favorite albums of 2016 here: FeenyFaves – Top 10 Albums of 2016.